Transit drivers and the hands-free law

The in basket: A reader who wants to be known only as Lonnie for purposes of this column says he saw a Kitsap Transit bus driver flip open his cell phone and begin talking as he drove the bus at 11th and Perry in East Bremerton one recent morning.

He wonders if bus drivers are among those exempted from the hands-free device law, along with police, emergency personnel, tow truck drivers and anyone reporting a crime or an emergency. He’d find that curious, he said, “especially with such a huge vehicle.”

The out basket: Actually Kitsap Transit bus drivers are more limited in their use of cell phones than any of us, as a company policy forbids all use of a cell phone while the bus is in motion, says John Clauson, Transit’s service development manager.

That policy, which could stand a little editing to settle on the correct pronouns,  reads, “”Operator’s personal cellular phones are not to be used while aboard a coach to communicate with Dispatch or any other parties. Personal cell phone use is only allowed at terminals or transfer centers when your coach is parked, while they are off the bus and only if its use doesn’t interfere with their job duties. If it is necessary to call Dispatch while you are in service either because you are in a “dead radio zone” or because your radio is not working, the operator must stop their coach and secure it before using their cellular phone.

The driver of the bus Lonnie saw will be pointedly reminded of that policy, John said.

By coincidence, the hands-free law was amended this year to address a transit issue, but not to add transit drivers to the list of those exempted from the cell-phone prohibition.

Instead, it allows a bus driver to hold a receiver to his or her ear if it’s parts of a device permanently affixed to the vehicle. John says that describes the radio units in many of Kitsap Transit’s buses, which have telephone-like handsets wired to the radio. Because the radio system itself is wireless, even though the handset isn’t, transit officials statewide worried when the hands-free law made it a primary offense that it would prevent drivers from using those radios. So they got the law changed.

One thought on “Transit drivers and the hands-free law

  1. I still see a lot of cell use while vehicles are in motion, even a school bus driver from Mountain View on Perry Ave., but that was before the law. No doubt it was an emergency call. Allowing police to use their cells explains why the Bremerton police don’t use turn signals too often – even they can’t run the computer, steer, and flip the little handle. Seems the WSP has figured it out – I’ve never seen a WSP cruiser turn without a signal. Another problem is no one has figured out a hands-free device for texting. I drove alongside a young woman who was busy texting tonight on Hwy 303.

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